(CN) – A new study bolsters what Charles Dickens knew and wrote about in "A Christmas Carol" 174 years ago: People who make more money are more likely to feel good about themselves while people who earn less take greater pleasure in those around them.
Though the report – published Monday in the journal Emotion – does not address whether people who make more money are happier, it does highlight how wealth can potentially adjust how a person derives feelings of joy and accomplishment.
“Higher income has many benefits, including improved health and life satisfaction, but is it associated with greater happiness?” said lead author Paul Piff, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine. "After all, most people think of money as some kind of unmitigated good.
“But some recent research suggests that this may not actually be the case. In many ways, money does not necessarily buy you happiness.”
In a nationally representative survey, the team asked 1,519 participants about their household income, as well as a series of questions that aimed to measure their tendency to experience seven emotions that are believed to represent the core of happiness: enthusiasm, love, contentment, compassion, amusement, awe and pride.
The respondents rated their agreement with various statements, such as “Nurturing others gives me a warm feeling inside.”
Wealthier participants were more likely to experience self-focused emotions, particularly contentment, pride and amusement.
Individuals at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, on the other hand, were more likely to experience emotions that focused on others – love and compassion, specifically. Poorer respondents also reported more feelings of awe and beauty in the world around them. There was no noticeable difference for enthusiasm, according to the study.
“These findings indicate that wealth is not unequivocally associated with happiness,” said Piff. "What seems to be the case is that your wealth predisposes you to different kinds of happiness.
“While wealthier individuals may find greater positivity in their accomplishments, status and individual achievements, less wealthy individuals seem to find more positivity and happiness in their relationships, their ability to care for and connect with others.”
Piff argues that these differences may stem from wealthier individuals’ desire for self-sufficiency and independence, while outwardly focused emotions help lower-income people form more interdependent connections with others to help weather their more threatening environments.
“Poverty heightens people's risks for a slew of negative life outcomes, including worsened health,” Piff said. "Wealth doesn't guarantee you happiness, but it may predispose you to experiencing different forms of it – for example, whether you delight in yourself versus in your friends and relationships.
“These findings suggest that lower-income individuals have devised ways to cope, to find meaning, joy and happiness in their lives despite their relatively less favorable circumstances."